President’s Message: Join the Ocean Club!

WDC Journal Edition: Summer 2017
By: Laura M. Lyons, President, Wisconsin Defense Counsel

Ten years ago, if you had indicated to me that I would have joined the Board of the Wisconsin Defense Counsel and become its President, I would have laughed. I also would have told you that I was underqualified and too young. Perhaps I was right, but we are all still here! All of it reminds me of a little group called the Ocean Club.

During several summers in college, I worked as a youth development coordinator at a chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. I worked with lots of kids of varying ages and backgrounds. One child in particular sticks out: I will call him Tommy.1

Though he was endearing and engaging, Tommy was too young to be in our program. We initially denied him membership, but soon it became clear that he needed a safe place to go in the summer and a place to harness his drive (by way of example, he one day walked to the club wearing only one shoe for about 8 blocks). Given the above, and as the age written on his membership form met our guidelines, he was allowed to join.

We were definitely the better for it. Tommy was an impish, positive character who was always up to something. One day Tommy started the Ocean Club: He and a few friends would gather in a corner of the facility and draw sea life pictures and celebrate all things ocean-related. Tommy invited everyone to join, including all of the staff.

The Ocean Club fell off my radar until mid-summer. One day, the early arrivals trickled in, mostly wearing swimsuits and carrying towels. Suddenly we had a critical mass of kids wearing swim gear.

None of the Boys and Girls Club staff knew what was afoot until one of the parents asked for an Ocean Club field trip form. Over 30+ Ocean Club members were dressed and ready for an adventure.

Ultimately, the Ocean Club was appeased by the promise of an authorized waterpark field trip later in the summer. They found an alternate activity that day in lieu of the unauthorized field trip. What struck me the most was that Tommy, the newest and youngest and member of our group, had managed to accomplish so much.

At times my term on this Board has felt like my very own attempt at an Ocean Club. I was the new kid, I found a niche, and together we have been on some metaphorical (and authorized!) field trips.

I distinctly remember the first WDC seminar I attended. A colleague talked me into attending the spring seminar at the American Club in March 2008. To say that I was intimidated is an understatement. It did not help that I knew only about five people in the whole room. I was not sure that I would attend another seminar. I did not feel like I fit in and did not feel like there was a place for me.

Less than 10 years later, a lot has changed. My involvement in this group started with small steps and it led to something bigger. At the urging of a colleague, I wrote an article for the Journal. Then I joined the Board, was selected to serve as the Program Chair and entered the leadership track. I have represented our group at national meetings and at the state legislature. I also now know many of you (definitely more than 5 of you!).

This is the beauty of the WDC: there truly is a spot for everyone and their talents. To that end, I hope that all of you will continue to contribute to this group and take advantage of all that the WDC has to offer. In order to help you do that, I need to explain what our Board and Executive Board have been doing and where we intend to head.

You are likely aware of the many benefits of being a WDC member: the Wisconsin Civil Trial Journal, the expert list serve, the advance e-sheet, panel counsel meeting opportunities, legislative updates, CLEs, networking opportunities, and so on.

You may also have noted some changes in WDC over the past year or two. As a result of our longrange planning, our Board has reinstituted our committee structures, set aside a reserve fund to help ensure the financial viability of this group, revamped our website, and worked on broadening our appeal beyond insurance defense.

In addition, we are working on creating new activities and opportunities that will benefit you and your practice. To that end, we recently held our first ever Women in the Law Clothing Drive (see Amy Scholl’s feature in this issue for more information!), we are working on a joint activity with the Wisconsin Association for Justice, the Young Lawyers group has held several lunchtime CLEs focused on topics pertinent to new lawyers (such as how to please corporate clients), and we are exploring the idea of incorporating webcast CLEs.

One of our Board’s goals for 2017 is to expand our social networking outreach, primarily through Facebook and Twitter. At the latest Regional meeting in May 2017, we networked with other states on this issue and have begun brainstorming what will work for our state. We hope to implement some of our ideas later this year.

Our Executive Board has additional responsibilities of which you may not be aware. First, the Executive Board receives updates from Hamilton Consulting on lobbying efforts every two weeks during active legislative sessions. These meetings are helpful in terms of us keeping the pulse of the legislature and identifying areas where we may want to play offense or defense.

As you know from my last column and the interim updates, the current legislative session included two budget proposals that would affect the area of worker’s compensation: 1) the elimination of court reporters; and 2) the elimination of the LIRC. At the time that I am writing this, these issues have progressed favorably, but the budget is still not yet final.2

In addition, our Executive Board is directly connected with national and regional defense organizations, as well as the Defense Research Institute (DRI). WDC sponsors two Executive Board members to attend the DRI Annual Meeting each year, as well as the Northcentral Regional Meeting. In addition, DRI sponsors at least one Executive Board member and our Executive Director to attend the State and Local Defense Organization (SLDO) leadership meeting every year in January.

These three annual opportunities allow WDC’s leadership the opportunity to network and brainstorm with leaders from other states. Our leaders who attend these events will now be providing brief written reports to our Board to outline what they have gleaned from those meetings. A useful example of the value of those meetings is from the Annual Meeting in 2016: As a result of what we learned there, our Executive Board re-worked our sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities, which ultimately has helped in correcting WDC’s budget deficit.

The information above is a sampling of what our Board has implemented and the endeavors of our Executive Board. We have a solid foundation for the future. A strong Executive Board is in place, all of whom are familiar with and support WDC’s long-range planning goals.

My personal goals for my term as WDC President were to expand WDC’s services to its members and increase member involvement. We have made some progress on both of these goals, but there is much work to be done. This is where your increased engagement is essential.

In order to thrive, the WDC Board needs your help. We need you to get involved by writing for the Journal, speaking at a seminar, or joining our committees.

To properly serve your interests, we need more input from you. We know you have opinions and preferences: please share them. We circulate surveys after our seminars and we generally receive only 5-10 surveys responses: a return rate of around 1%-2%. Certainly, we need more feedback than that! I implore you to respond to us when we send the surveys out.

We would also like you to reach out to the new attorneys in your firm, or perhaps the more experienced attorneys who are not yet members, and encourage them to join our ranks. In addition, please consider asking your firm to sponsor an event, and perhaps even host a young lawyers event to help our young lawyers grow and learn.

Somewhere out there is a new member who will be someday be on the leadership path for this group. We should be providing that new member with the best chance for success to help us grow together into the future. We generally have openings on the Board every year. If you wish to submit a name for consideration for a board position, please email me.

As always, if you have comments or questions about WDC, please do not hesitate to contact me or our President-Elect, Fred Strampe, who will begin his term as President of the WDC in August 2017.

As I transition to “WDC retirement” in August, I will have one year left on the Board as its Past President. In addition to continuing to lead the Women in the Law Committee, I will be working on launching the WDC Membership Committee and the Worker’s Compensation Committee. If you have any interest in joining or leading either of those committees, I would welcome your help.

I cannot overstate the effect that this group has had in terms of my professional development, my personal development, and my friendships in our legal community. That said, I have never lost the feeling of being the new person at one of our seminars. In fact, it is that feeling that has driven me throughout my term on the Board and my presidency. Every eligible member should be welcomed into this group because of the varied talents and experiences that they have to offer. Each of our WDC members, regardless of how many months or years they have been practicing, adds meaning and depth to this organization. I am hopeful that as our group grows and develops we will continue to build stronger connections together.

It has been my honor and pleasure to serve on the Board of this group. I look forward to the new adventures that the future holds for us as an organization. And let’s keep an eye out for youngsters like Tommy….

Laura Lyons
is the President of the Wisconsin Defense Counsel. She is a shareholder at Bell, Moore & Richter, S.C., located in Madison, Wisconsin. Laura has a statewide practice, representing and advising clients in a variety of areas, including civil litigation defense and worker’s compensation. She has also handled appellate matters, including appeals to the Labor and Industry Review Commission and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. She is admitted to practice in Wisconsin and before both the Eastern and Western U.S. District Courts of Wisconsin.

Laura is a member of the Dane County Bar Association, the Wisconsin Association of Worker’s Compensation Attorneys (WAWCA), the Defense Research Institute (DRI), and the State Bar of Wisconsin. She is also a barrister in the James E. Doyle Inns of Court.

Laura and her husband live in Madison. She has been a Big Sister in Dane County’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program since March 2006. Laura also volunteers as a coach for the Millennium Soccer Club, which brings affordable and accessible organized youth soccer to Madison’s low-income, ethnically diverse neighborhoods. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, running, reading and playing soccer.

1 Not his real name.
2 In May 2017, the Joint Finance Committee voted to keep four court reporting positions and to maintain the LIRC as it currently exists. A study is to be done on the viability of audio and video recordings and a survey will be done on LIRC decisions citing the statutes they interpreted and whether the decisions are appealed to circuit court.